The Hand that Rocks the Cradle...

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William Lamont reviews three influential titles on women in early modern Europe.

  • Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth Century Lives by Natalie Zemon Davis (Harvard University Press 360 pp.)
  • The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe. Volume One 1500-1800 by Olwen Hufton (HarperCollins 654 pp.)
  • Gender, Sex and Subordination in England 1500-1800 by Anthony Fletcher (Yale University Press 442 pp.)

In France in the mid-1930s, Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch created a new historical journal, the Annales, and with it a new way of writing history. The greatest living heir to that tradition may be Natalie Davis. She once set herself the task of exploring why the Annales School – so fertile in anticipating many of the most exciting developments in modern historiography – came so late to the subject of gender. She found the answer in the journal's own editorial offices, and showed how the contribution of women historians to the success of Annales – Suzanne Febvre, Lucie Varga, Simone Vidal Bloch, Therese Sclafert and others – had been effectively marginalised. Three seventeenth-century women who had previously been confined to the margins of history are now brought back centre-stage in Davis' most recent monograph, and this seems only poetically just in the circumstances.

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